Ponka-We Victors: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

The National Museum of the American Indian interview series Meet Native America continues today with Ponka-We Victors.
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In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Ponka-We Victors, Kansas State representative, District 103.

What tribes are you affiliated with?

The Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona and the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma.

What is a significant point in history from one of your tribes that you would like to share?

In 1879, Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe successfully argued in a U.S. District Court that Native Americans are “persons within the meaning of the law.” Not only did he see justice in a U.S. court, but he paved the way for others to fight for Native American rights.

How is your state government set up?

The Kansas government is comprised of and divided into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The state legislature is composed of 125 representatives and 40 senators.

How are leaders chosen?

Representatives are elected for a two-year term, and senators are elected for a four-year term. There are no term limits.

Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state?

Republicans have the majority in Kansas.

Do legislators vote along party lines?

There are times where we can all come together on certain issues, and then there are times where we have to agree to disagree.

Are there any other Natives who are elected leaders in your state?

I’m sure there are by descent, but not very many. I hope to see this change someday and that Native Americans have representation on every level of government.

How many tribes are in your state? Who are they?

There are four tribes in Kansas. They are the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas, Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, and the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska.

Do you ever meet with the Native people of your state?

Yes, it’s important to keep an open line of communication with the four tribes of Kansas and to keep them updated on what’s going on in our state. I also encourage them to visit the Capitol frequently and to sit in on various hearings or testify on an issue.

Do the Native people in Kansas vote in state elections?

Yes. It’s been a slow process, but I know participation will increase as the Native American population becomes more aware of state issues and how the debate might include them and their loved ones.

How often does your state congress meet?

The Kansas State Legislature meets on the second Monday of every January and adjourns in May or when our business at the Capitol is completed.

What responsibilities do you have as a state representative?

I create and vote on legislation that could become law in Kansas. Also, I am assigned to committees that deal with various state issues, including the state budget and oversight of state agencies.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.